That’s what the guy does, and why without him South Carolina looked less than ordinary. And why with him back, the Gamecocks are capable of so much – like breaking a four-game losing streak to Georgia.
Sindarius Thornwell tipped in his own miss and dove on a loose ball with 30 seconds to go as USC topped the Bulldogs 67-61 on Wednesday, leading the Gamecocks to an SEC-opening win over a team that’s had their number lately. Coach Frank Martin correctly pointed out that USC-Georgia games typically go down to the last minute, but it’s been Georgia, and specifically J.J. Frazier, who have made the biggest plays to win the recent ones.
Thornwell, in his first game back from a six-game suspension, wouldn’t allow that to happen. Thornwell showed no rust from his long layoff.
The senior had 19 points and 11 rebounds, six steals and three blocked shots. He blocked his buddy Frazier once and deflected the last pass from Frazier that wound up being the recovered ball, which set up game-clinching free throws from Hassani Gravett and P.J. Dozier.
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“I just know I saw the ball rolling, and I saw Juwan (Parker) reaching for it and I just dove on the floor trying to reach it,” Thornwell said. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I think anyone of us would have dove on the floor for that ball in that situation.”
But he’s the one that did, making a play when his team had to have it. Before that, USC’s lead had been sliced to one point after Frazier assisted Yante Maten’s 3-pointer.
“Sin’s the backbone of our team,” Martin said. “He came across the court, airborne, to go get that loose ball. He gives us the toughness to make some plays that other guys aren’t ready to go make yet.”
The game see-sawed, Georgia (9-5, 1-1 SEC) pounding the ball to Maten (18 points) and getting to the line. His 3 cut the score to 62-61 and everybody in Stegeman Coliseum knew what would happen next.
Frazier would take a game-winning shot. He’s had USC in his hip pocket the past four games and this could’ve been the fifth.
Yet Thornwell drove the lane and missed a bunny, but made a putback, and the lead was three. He then dove for the ball to give USC (11-3, 1-0) possession.
Frazier had one last chance, drawing all sorts of contact as he threw a 3-pointer at the basket. There was no whistle, but the ball arced closer and closer …
“My heart dropped for a minute,” Thornwell said.
It rimmed out and USC snatched the rebound. Dozier was immediately fouled, went to the line and sank two shots to finish with 24 points.
Thornwell was asked if he was what the team was missing. He deflected it, while Dozier nodded.
“He makes such a big difference on the team,” Dozier said. “I think this game speaks for itself in how much we missed him.”
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